Not your grandmother’s watercolors

The Watercolor Society of Oregon’s show in Newberg debunks stereotypes that the medium is about wimpy, washed out florals and bowls of fruit

The Watercolor Society of Oregon’s original plan was for members to converge in Newberg this fall for their annual convention, to be held in the Chehalem Cultural Center. As with so many other cultural doings, that was not to be.

But the paintings are there, more than 80 of them filling the center’s largest space along with the spacious lobby. The show runs through Nov. 28, and it easily qualifies as must-see fare, for it opens your eyes to the range of possibilities with a medium that tends to be mistaken for what I suppose one would call the stereotype.

I thought it was just me, but I asked Oregon watercolorist Kristi Grussendorf about it. She juried the show and is active not only in the 800-plus-member state organization, but also in regional groups. She knew what I was talking about.

“Chrome of Fire II,” by Sandra Wood (38 by 30 inches , watercolor)
“Chrome of Fire III,” by Sandra Wood (38 by 30 inches )

“Yes, it’s not your typical, wimpy, washed out florals that little old ladies did,” she said. I actually did not cite “old ladies,” but I knew what she was talking about. It’s part of the stereotype, maybe at a subconscious level, but it’s there: this image of aging women using watercolors to produce flowers, pastures, and bowls of fruit. “Watercolor is a powerful and versatile medium,” Grussendorf said. “It’s also archival. It’s past time for the old stereotypes to be discarded.”

The Chehalem show smashes through this stereotype powerfully. Indeed, the first impression a few of the pieces made was that they weren’t in watercolor. Dona White’s enchanting Play Time on first glance looks like it might have been done with acrylic. Doyle Leek’s Olive Oil from a distance vaguely resembles a graphite drawing. Sandra Wood’s Chrome of Fire III briefly appears almost like it was “painted” digitally, but no. I’m not sure what I thought upon first seeing Marjett Schille’s Slipping Into Darkness, which hauntingly depicts a surreal exodus of butterflies leaving Earth, but it definitely was not “watercolor.”